Autumn Update 2020


Autumn Update 2020

Following several conversations with other property professionals, such as surveyors and solicitors, I have put together this update to highlight some of the challenges that are currently being faced in the property market.

One of my constant frustrations with running an estate agency business is the seemingly unnecessary delays incurred for both buyers and sellers during the final stages of a property purchase. When I opened Plymouth Homes 21 years ago, a property transaction would take on average 4 – 6 weeks to legally complete once a price had been agreed. Over the years this has gradually increased until we reached the point earlier this year where a sale was taking 8 – 12 weeks, with most sales nearer the 12 week mark. This is baffling when you consider that over the past 20 years virtually every other industry has managed to embrace technology to such a degree that they can deliver a product or service to you almost instantly.

Over the past few months we have seen this position deteriorate even further. Naturally every sale is different and has its own set of unique factors, so apologies in advance for the generic nature of this update. However, if you are involved in a chain some of the information we have gleaned may affect others in your chain and hence have an indirect effect on your move. In a manner of speaking we are currently experiencing ‘a perfect storm’ of delays to property sales and we do understand the frustration that this may have many of our clients. To highlight some of the current challenges:

·       Mortgage companies are currently extremely busy and understaffed. Some companies are taking over two weeks to even open their post, let alone action and progress a mortgage application. If anybody in your chain has a deposit of 15% or less, the mortgage companies are being extremely cautious with these clients and carrying out additional references and checks, adding weeks to an already delayed mortgage process.
·         Surveyors are also very over stretched and in some cases fully booked 3 weeks in advance.
·         Local authority searches used to take 7 – 10 days, they are currently taking over 6 weeks.
·         Local probate offices have been closed and a grant of probate has gone from taking 6 – 8 weeks to over 6 months in some cases. Some solicitors are slow in applying for the grant and this is causing further delays. Most chains do not have a probate sale in them, but if yours does please be aware of the possible delay.
·         Conveyancing solicitors are in general terms the busiest they have been in over 10 years. The Government’s decision to suspend stamp duty for most buyers until 31st March 2021 has created a phenomenal demand from buyers and this has lead to a significantly higher workload for most solicitors. As a result some are not very forthcoming with updates for us (the number of times we are told ‘if we weren’t constantly updating estate agents we could actually get on and progress this sale!’) which is making it difficult for us to always provide you with timely updates.

The obvious question in response to these delays is why these companies are not just employing more staff to ease their workload? The answers that keep coming back to me are that there is a lack of trained individuals available to step in immediately and take the strain combined with a belief that this volume of work will be short lived. Firms are reluctant to increase staffing levels when there is a common consensus that transactions volumes will return to normal after Christmas.

As a company we are finding it increasingly frustrating that we are unable to influence and ‘speed up’ sales and purchases for our clients. We have increased our staffing levels but no amount of additional calls to a solicitor’s firm will convince them to move one of our cases to the top of their ‘to do’ pile. Likewise, mortgage companies and Plymouth City Council (the local authority search provider) will not take calls from estate agents and will insist on dealing with their workload in a strict order, so we can have no influence here either. We can (and will!) continue to keep you updated but are asking for your understanding about our limited influence over the time that your sale or purchase may take.

I have intentionally avoided stating how long an average sale is now taking, mainly because there is no such thing as an average sale at present. However, we are finding that with patience and understanding virtually all our sales do make it across the finish line and our clients are achieving their ultimate goal of moving home.

In these uncertain times please stay safe (or as my eldest daughter said to me this morning – remain positive but test negative!)

With best wishes 

Ian Mitchell
Company Director